THE MELTING POT OF MUSIC, a historical approach using ELVIS as our guide.


Undeniably, ELVIS PRESLEY served as a catalyst in the evolution of a genre that is known as “rock and roll”. Most musicologists are well aware of Elvis’ significance to what is termed “popular music”. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi (1935) ELVIS’s family moved to Memphis, Tennessee when he was 13 and this is where his musical journey began.

Studying Presley’s original recordings in today’s context one would find his contributions extremely difficult to label or categorize as these said recordings find an  ELVIS who sampled and mixed genres from a huge musical palette including gospel, hillbilly, and virtually anything and everything available to his ears. But How?

American culture has been categorized as the GREAT MELTING POT while others consider it to be THE GREAT MOSAIC. Which ever term  your fancy …let’s dissect what happened.

Pre Columbian (as in Pre-Christopher Columbus) America was populated by Native Americans the first true immigrant grouping. It is said that a few tribes left what is today Russia and they traveled across a narrow frozen area near The Bering Strait, arriving in what is now Alaska.

Over time these tribes multiplied and settled throughout the North and South American continents. Naively, we state that CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS discovered America, yet AMERICA was already here and  in fact inhabited.

Many factors, mostly economic and religious, encouraged the European exploration and settlement of this “New” land, The Spanish and French, followed in 1607 by the British.

Also, in 1619 the first 20 Africans were brought to America, against their will.

This nucleus of folks (black, white, red and brown) from diverse cultures,   religions,   and languages   would be the first mix thrown into what later is defined as AMERICANA. This being simplistically stated by me  but mostly accurate.

Over time The United States of America had specific waves of immigration. From the pre-colonial times through the War for Independence most emigrants were British, except the 700,000 slaves.

After the success of The War for Independence a lull occurred in new arrivals as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was conducting that GREAT EXPERIMENT known as democracy and most Europenans were unsure our budding democracy could work.

For the next 230 PLUS YEARS The  different WAVES of  immigrants were primarily English, Scots, Dutch, Germans, Irish, Asians, Slavs, Jews and Italians   with Eastern Europeans , Asians, and Hispanics  joining most recently

While these waves and the groups that arrived are significant in determining the “ingredients” of the MELTING POT of American culture…. one would be mistaken if THE GREAT INTERNAL MIGRATION (1900-1970) was not investigated…. because that migration from south to north and east to west was certainly the straw that stirred the “spices so to speak” of MELTING POT.

After the Civil War there were great rifts in our nation. An agrarian culture primarily in the southern states most which were still physically, economically and emotional scarred by the outcome of their succession from the Union was primarily a rural, dirt poor area with few pockets of wealth. The North was a budding industrial area filling with immigrants who saw this growing economy as a way to escape Europe and capture the American Dream. Unfortunately, it was not so easy.

WWI and WWII brought defense jobs to factory towns and major hubs. Only to be interrupted between the two by THE GREAT DEPRESSION. Okies left the Dust Bowls and headed to California. 70% of Blacks moved from the south to the major hubs while a “white flight” took place to the suburbs.

America had changed with each wave as each group brought those cultural graces which they considered sacred to their individuality while  also sampling the same from other group,… a taste testing so to speak.

Soon one facet of one’s society becomes accepted by others ….that is it becomes almost indistinguishable from its source. That facet becomes accepted as a norm.  Another wave, another culture, another blend another generation, and so on and so forth.

Add to that the internal migration and welcome to AMERICAN CULTURE which ELVIS PRESLEY freely sampled, …that mixed genre developed from a huge musical palette including gospel, hillbilly, and virtually everything available to his ears.

See you next time. Chapter 3: AMERICAN MUSIC 1900- 1940  Comments?